The Ugly Parts

A friend said to me last week, “Keep sharing these parts of you…you’ll never know how many lives you’ll impact along the way.”

Ever since my accident, I easily share the good parts – how far I’ve come in my physical recovery, how I’m indoor cycling again, how we’re able to travel again. But nobody wants to talk about the ugly parts. The ugly parts are hard.

But if I don’t share the whole story, then you only know the shiny Instagram-worthy parts of the story – and maybe someone else with ugly parts to their story doesn’t get the benefit of the reminder that the ugly part is temporary – or the benefit of hearing someone else just say “it’s OK to not be OK.”

I have learned so much about trauma this year – and how deep-seated it can be. Isn’t it lucky that I didn’t really know much about trauma until 33 years old? There’s something to be thankful for.

Right after the accident, my friend Kim was telling me how smart our brains are. And how good they are at packing crap in tiny boxes and burying it so deep that if you don’t acknowledge that and start unpacking those tiny boxes right away, they will get so buried and covered up with brain cobwebs that you might never get them out. I heard her – but didn’t really hear her. Then one day a month or so after the accident an ambulance went through my neighborhood with its siren on. Next thing I knew I was on the floor in my dining room covering my ears and I couldn’t breathe. I was unconscious when the ambulance came to my accident – I thought. But I must have heard that siren in October after all. And my brain connected the dots that the siren meant this was real bad. And the first time I heard a siren after the accident, even though I was safe in my house, my brain said “you’re in trouble. This is bad. Remember?” There were several other things like that – Escalades, stepping off a curb to cross the street, driving, riding in an Uber with a stranger in control of my life.

So I started thinking there might be something to this “tiny boxes of trauma in your brain” theory that Kim had. If you watched the NHTSA video, you know how much Andy ended up helping me over the course of the next few months. It was so good. After our time together ended and I felt in control of things, he’d check in from time to time and I’d say “yeah, I’m actually really good – I am.” And I meant it. I felt pretty normal and even keel. Sirens didn’t affect me that way anymore – Escalades didn’t make me want to pull off the road. I honestly felt better.

Then on July 8, there was a super public hit and run accident with a cyclist and an SUV on the Natchez Trace Parkway in greater Nashville. Since it was captured on video, I watched it a million times. I read everything about this asshat who hit the cyclist. I followed the story obsessively waiting for him to be arrested. Then I read all about him when they released his name. I sent the victim of the hit and run a Facebook message like a crazy person, letting him know I could refer him to resources for this trauma he’s experienced and he should take them, don’t wait. Apologies, sir – I am not always insane.

Then came all the victim shaming comments, HUNDREDS of them, on social media. I remembered people had similar things to say about me on the news reports of my accident, just on a lesser scale since my accident wasn’t viral like this video. Fortunately I was on a lot of pain pills when I read them so I didn’t really care what the trolls said, and have never gone back to revisit them. But this time, in regards to this Natchez Trace accident, I started sparring with these morons on Facebook, defending this cyclist and the rules of the road. By Monday, two days later, I could barely breathe and was uncontrollably weepy and stabby at the same time. I still wasn’t 100% putting it all together, but knew enough to call for help and try to get an appointment with someone.

Then Kim – God bless Kim – texted me and said “you doing ok with this Natchez Trace bike hit-and-run story?” I was like NOPE. That’s what is happening. I am coming unraveled and did not see this coming. Thank you for validating that.

What the heck!? I thought I was cured – remember? I did manage to get right into see someone through our Employee Assistance Program at work. It was a weird fit, this therapist, but she sat there and let me cry, validated my breakdown and handed me tissues, and it turns out that’s kind of all I needed.

I wrote this in my journal on July 11, which was a few days after that Natchez Trace incident:

Here’s the thing I’m learning about trauma. It doesn’t just go away. You aren’t just well, one day. It is always a little tumble of feelings and thoughts in your brain.

You know when you were little and playing outside as a kid, and sometimes you’d see those little baby tornado things whipping across the driveway? It’s a little gust of wind that twirls and twirls and picks up leaves and then breaks apart and disappears. I used to try to jump in them and hope I’d get swept way up in the air. I feel like that’s what’s sweeping around in my brain – real low, at the bottom, just hovering along. But sometimes it gets stronger and the elements are just right and it picks up steam and starts collecting leaves and debris and before you know it it’s a full blown tornado of anger and resentment and what ifs and shit gusting through my head.

So, I have decided more than anything now (which could all change tomorrow because that’s the thing about trauma), it’s OK to not be OK. And that I probably won’t ever be really healed. And that’s OK too. But I can talk about it – and maybe somebody reading this needs to also hear that it’s OK to not be OK. And I can keep unpacking the tiny trauma suitcases just as fast as this world fills them up inside my head. Because it’s my head and I get to be the landlord.

P.S. – if this hit home with you or made you think “me too” at any point, I recommend this book. And this one.

XOXO,

Jenn

 

 

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Six Months

Six months ago exactly, just like today, was a gorgeous Friday in Nashville. I got on my little orange bicycle at my office parking garage to make the short, 4.5 mile ride home. I snapped this picture before I got on the bike – it just looked so pretty with its new “seafoam” handlebar tape.

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I texted Justin, instead of calling, because I was so ready to get on the road and beat the heaviest traffic. I usually call him on my way home, every day. If I would have called him on October 7, maybe I would have been two or three minutes later to that intersection than I was. This is one of the 2,000 things I’ve asked myself “what if I had just…” about that day.

But I did not – I texted and got on the road. Probably 5-7 minutes after that I was on Poston Ave. at Centennial Park when I stopped at a four way stop, eased out into the intersection and everything about my perfect little bubble of a world changed. I don’t remember anything really, between the time I thought “this SUV is going to hit me” to when I woke up in an ambulance asking the nice paramedic to please hold my hand, which he did for about 45 minutes until they had to leave me.

Of course, now we’re six months past that – and in some ways it seems like a lifetime ago, and in some ways it feels like yesterday. Days like today, milestones and anniversaries, make me feel very heavy and reflective. I have started to slowly move past the “what ifs” and “if I had onlys…” to just being very accepting of this thing that happened to me and so thankful it wasn’t worse. I think of all the things he took from me that day, but really he gave me a lot too. Well, God did. It was His plan, after all. So, I try to see that and hold onto that. And when a thing happens – small or large – I think, well, maybe that was part of the plan. You were meant to be here to still experience that – or that was just a small thing that is teeing up a bigger thing for the future. Keep your eyes and heart open.

Justin and I watched the movie Patriot’s Day last night, which is about the Boston Marathon bombing and the manhunt for the two suspects. At the end of the movie, my boy Mark Wahlberg has this short monologue where he says things that I thought were so poignant for any tragedy or loss – on a national, personal or whatever level.

“When the devil hits you like that the only way to fight back is with love…That’s the only thing he won’t touch. What I saw today, good versus evil, love versus hate. There’s only one weapon you have to fight back with, it’s love. We wrap our arms around each other. I don’t think that there’s any way that they could ever win.”

He and others in the movie go on to talk about how love responded to that tragedy so fast, and that’s what the beautiful thing is about a tragedy. After my accident people wanted to know first how I was, and a close second “what about that bastard who hit you?” I’d always respond and tell them the latest on the case, but after some time, I wanted to say “but what about the dozens of people who sent me flowers, brought me dinner, cards, books, comfortable new pajamas, edible arrangements, a singing Elvis, or best yet, came over to just sit and cry with me. Don’t you know about them?” Let me tell you about those people – because that’s what was the most startling if you ask me. Not that one, horrible, waste of space crossed my path that day – but that so many beautiful, amazing people are in my life and they showed up BIG.

So yeah, he took a lot of things from me that day – like my feeling of safety doing normal, everyday things like stepping off a sidewalk, letting someone else drive me somewhere or hearing an ambulance pass. But he was the driver of an eye-opening experience and a reminder to seize every.single.moment on this earth. And to not be afraid of when the last might come. Because friends, that day is coming and we have zero control. Fearing it is a waste of time because you are completely powerless against most things in this world.

Six months was the first big milestone in my head – if I can get there, I’ll probably at least be in intense physical therapy and walking in my boot. Well, I’ve graduated from Physical Therapy, lost that boot at Christmas-time and I’m running and spinning again. I’m more in love with my people than ever. The sun is shining and I woke up with my person next to me today. That’s more than enough and I appreciate it more than I thought possible. I said it six months and one day ago from the ER, and I’ll say it again. Hug your people.

Oh, and I have to call Justin before leaving work every day now. It’s not negotiable. 🙂

XOXO,
Jenn

Perspective

CB

I am three days shy of being six months post-accident. If you are like “what is she talking about?” you can get the background here. Two weeks ago I officially graduated from Physical Therapy (yay!), so last weekend, I went back to my first spin class. I had spent a few minutes on a stationary bike in Physical Therapy, but hadn’t been back to spin yet. (And no, I’ve not been on a road bike yet). I didn’t think I’d be comfortable standing up out of the saddle and climbing, or being locked into my shoes and pedals. That’s a lot of potential force on your ankle, particularly if you lose the rhythm and the pedal gets away from you.

In August, about six weeks before the accident, my friend Lindsey introduced me to a spin studio in Franklin. It completely consumed us. We were slightly obsessed with the instructors, the room, the bikes…the entire experience. This class is one where your bike is smart and tracks your stats throughout the class, and they are shown on a screen periodically throughout the 50 minute session. Based on your power points (gear + speed), you rank among your classmates. Friendly competition at its finest.

I started in the back row the first few classes. Then, I realized I was pretty friggin’ good at this, and moved to the front row so I could get even more connected to the class and the instructor. In a class of 20 or so people, I wanted to place near the top every time. Especially above the boys. Because when is out-racing boys not fun? I would rank high every class, or kill myself trying.

You get an email report after class saying how many estimated calories you burned, how you stacked up against your classmates, what your average power was, etc. I would compare mine, class to class, to be sure I was improving. It was obsessive, but I loved the competition. I was devastated to miss it after the accident and in denial about how long I’d be out.

10 days ago I went back to my first class. I texted the instructor (who has become a sweet friend) and basically told her not to expect much. I was going to be in the back row, I took my stats off the screen and I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to climb a hill or leave the saddle – but I’d be there and be positive. She said that sounded perfect.

With Lindsey by my side, cheering me on, I rode the entire 50 minute class and covered 14 miles. The first time the instructor said “come to third position” (that’s out of the seat, climbing a hill), I stood up. It felt fine. It felt amazing. I was watching my gear, but pushing myself. What I wasn’t doing was watching the screen. Or other people around me. I was so in tune with how my body felt and how much more I could do and I would push to get there, then listen again, and adjust.

For the first time, it wasn’t about beating everyone in class or riding further than them. It was about beating the girl stuck on the couch for the past 6 months. It was about feeling what it is to have every muscle in your leg fire up at once. And to have sweat running in your eyes. Oh my goodness how I missed a good sweat! I caught myself cheering Lindsey on (she wins every sprint, ever) – previously I would have been tasting my breakfast trying to beat her. I caught myself setting tiny goals along the way – “do this hill one gear higher than the last,” or “you’re almost to 13 miles – you can get 14 in before class is over.”

So you see where I’m going with this, right? What happens when we start focusing on how much we can do compared to the last time? Or how much closer we can get to a goal we thought was out of reach? What happens when we enter every challenge as me vs. me instead of me vs. you? For starters, I’ll like both of us a lot better at the finish line.

Healthy competition is so good, don’t get me wrong – but my perspective about how I’m competing and who I’m competing against and WHY I’m competing has shifted and it feels so much healthier. Maybe that’s just part of getting older. Maybe it’s part of wondering if I’d ever ride again. The list of things to be thankful for grows immensely when they are almost all taken away. I pray this new perspective is here to stay. Check me at the door if I lose it.

XOXO,
Jenn